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Friday, February 21, 2014

Bifurcations and Belonging

I worship at a mega church. I serve at a miniscule church. Both are dear to me.

Mega: I love the reverberating sound it is to be one of a throng of worshippers. One small amongst so many. To my imagination it is a taste of Heaven, where we humans purchased for God from every tribe and language and people and nation… made to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God and reign on the earth will join this chorus currently sung by the angelic choir:

Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise! (Revelation 5)

In this concert of praise I raise my hands to the Jesus we together worship. I sing loud and harm no one. I am one of hundreds.

It is here I feel small. Small is good, but not unknown. Unknown is dangerous. At my dear mega church, unknown, I am in danger.

The unknown scares me. It scares me for me, and it scares me for my church. How many other worshippers slide under the radar of healthy community?

But it mainly scares me for me. I fear my aloneness, the danger it is to my soul. What heart-foolishness hides, unexposed by my community-lessness? Who is discipling me? Who am I discipling? Who holds a mirror to my soul to expose the real Abbey? The Abbey who daily needs repentance and mind-renewal. To whom can I run for burden-bearing? Whose burdens do I bear? At my mega church, in this season the protection of community eludes me.

After worship, before the sermon is entirely over, I creep out, settle into my car, and drive. I drive out of Pleasantville through farmers’ enchanted lands. On the fringe of the city I climb a hill. Sometimes joggers and bicyclists are taking that hill and, excited, wanting to be them, wanting their sweat to be mine, I reply to these athletes’ exertions. They receive, unknowingly, hearty accolades and cheers from the car passing on their left. Through our proximity I exchange my enthusiasm for their endorphins. (So believes my imagination.)

Downhill ushers me into the country. When it was summer the sky would paint the fields and orchards in gold-dust. These golden lands through which I sped shone, pregnant with pastoral splendor, and to that the sky blushed blue. It was then that I would awe, the windows of my soul too small to drink it in entirely though, wide-eyed, I tried. And try still. On the edge of my seat through Winter weariness I labor to gather in line upon line of brown grasses, fallow fields, barren orchards. I strain to catch the song sung by thousands of December, January, and February stripped purple trees. They whisper truths only they now know (perhaps in May when I am among them their secret will be more of a shout). I stretch to imbibe the tall grey sky. It stands as a proud pillar supporting clouds whose names I don’t know. Clouds that frolic. Winter beauty, not unlike Summer, tempts my eyes with the deception that I may swallow it all. I try. But I come up short, always. This Heaven-craving soul that tells my body “I’m ALIVE!” shall always hunt for the beautiful remnants and shadows of it on earth while here I roam. However futile, the beauty-quest keeps me alive. Running keeps me alive.

The 45 minutes in my car between mega and miniscule are a temporary parade of what I shall forever enjoy once I finally find Home. For 45 minutes thanksgiving spills out, and laughter. I laugh at the wild beauty, the Creator’s mirth in sharing it all with me. My hands open to receive it.

Mini: Laughing, soul full, I arrive. It is a fellowship in the country, a church which has fed a flock since before worshippers began marking time within the century prior to our present one. The noses of a dozen parked cars stare sleepily at its relaxed, weathered grey walls. Children, many of whom are my little cousins, canvas yard and sanctuary. Very old folks sit inside on tired pews. Younger old folks congregate outside on cracked steps. From the doors, praise invites us inside. Gladly, I accept.

Here I will smile, sing, greet, teach, talk, pack, and away. I never earned entrance. I am “in” because my family is “in;” has been “in” for generations.

It is here I feel loved. Loved is comfortable, but dangerous: Missionary teacher. Can do no wrong. She must walk on water.

I fear. For myself, I fear my heart's propensity towards God-belittling self-worship: the parading of Abbey's righteousness. For my church, I fear their apprehension of the gospel message. Which do they believe? The Jesus-gospel? That we are completely helpless. We need a strong Savior to rescue us from our addictions, our idolatry, our morality. Or is their hope in a gospel of personal righteousness? Being present makes me good enough. My morality makes me acceptable to the King of the Heavens.

I shudder. All my righteousness is like crap. Isaiah 64:6. I think about that when I go to the bathroom: Abbey’s morality is like crap. Disgusting. Thank God for Jesus! The Lamb of God who takes away sin! At great expense to Himself, He cleans me. I get His righteousness.

I away. And as this week's Sunday morning gauntlet concludes I ponder these things on my drive out of the country. I ponder worship, and community, the gospel, and self-deception. I ponder my fears. I ponder Belonging, and I wonder, will in the next chapter of life I Belong? For in this one, I feel myself still searching for home.

Mega and miniscule. Dear to my heart, both. The dearness keeps me on my knees for big and for little. And that is a good place to be. The closest place to Home.

Friday, February 7, 2014

IRAQ: The Haps (Round 2)

Friends and Relations!

There has been a small hiccup in my Iraq-bound communication over the past nine months and I wanted to catch you up.

Last July I was unable, through circumstances over which God’s quiet providences are now better visible, to raise the $12,000 needed to teach in Iraq with Servant Group International this school year. With that door closed- at least temporarily- I chose to run through another opened one and for the past six months have been living the California dream in Sacramento with my gracious aunt and uncle. This time has been rich with my Heavenly Father’s lavish gifts- particularly as I enjoy my extended family.

I moved to Sacramento in August knowing nothing of the 2,000 + (and growing) Iraqi refugee population herein. (Sacramento is home to an even larger population of mid-eastern refuges from the neighboring countries of Syria, Jordan, and Iran.) Through my new home church this quickly became known and I was able to immediately plug into an outreach which, amazingly, incorporates teaching! Since September I have been volunteering weekly at a Christian center tutoring Arabic speaking young people in English. In all of Sacramento and her sprawling suburbs, the Arab American Learning Center (AALC) at which we meet is no more than four miles away from my workplace! Does God care about the details in the stories He tells?! Every good author does.

Through my time at the AALC I am getting first-hand exposure to mid-eastern culture under the wise guidance of women who love Jesus and who have years of experience ministering to this population. Their counsel and prayer are worth as much as the life-on-life opportunities I’m getting with the students themselves! As with so many of God’s gifts, the AALC is a multi-faceted one I never even dreamed of asking Him for! And He delivered it wrapped neatly with the affirmation that I’m following the path He has for me.

Before I get to Iraq this fall and step into the classroom I cannot know for certain what subject(s)/grade level(s) I will be teaching in the K-12 school to which SGI assigns me. One of the top three qualities SGI needs of their teachers is flexibility; a second quality they need is flexibility! As a substitute teacher in two Sacramento districts I am getting a lot of practice! Qualifying to teach as a sub is just another one of many details God has worked out to prepare me for this fall. As they say in Haiti, Mesi, Jezi!

Of the many discoveries I’ve made about California one of the most significant is that Cali culture does not naturally cultivate community such as I experienced in the Midwest. The transient, non-committal mind-set of my new neighbors is fascinating, liberating, and a complex, irresolvable irritant. God’s most recent gift to me in this California chapter of life has been to soothe this irritant through immersing me in a ministry training program called the Global Pipeline. A local church offers GP to its members who are focused on refugee outreach. They kindly invited me to participate (although I am not a member!). Through the community created by GP I am learning how Muslims think, what they believe, effective ways to love them, and best of all, growing in my own love for Jesus.

Thank you for your support over these past nine months of planning, pursuing, and practicing flexibility. Though I have not been actively support-raising, through your generosity I have already raised nearly 25% of my goal! That means that I have until June to raise the remaining $9,000. Please consider how you can help me! Once you know, you can donate directly by cutting and pasting this link into a new window: Donating directly through SGI ensures that your gift is tax-deductible.

Thank you for journeying with me! Please keep in touch through "following" my blog and leaving your comments. I will be making weekly postings on Wednesday/Thursday of each week. Bon weekend!